Season One Story Planning

The motto of the story team is 'It's like we did it on purpose'. Accidental coincidences and questions of teleology crop up in every story - especially in ones as long as Season 1. However, we did actually do an awful lot of planning as well, as will be shown by this selection of planning materials:

Ascendancy Point Rescue Flowchart

This flowchart details the sequence of events, puzzles and interaction in the final Ascendancy Point live event. You can probably spot what we left out in the end.

Ascendancy Point Flowchart

Another flowchart about Ascendancy Point, but this time about the Monica Grand/Advisor arc. We design our flowcharts in Omnigraffle Pro, an excellent and easy to use flowchart application.

Season 1 Overview

Excerpts from a very early treatment of the story for Season 1. We've come a long way, baby...

Rough outline of possible back-story for Perplex City series one. April 2004

Perplex City is very much like our world.

The fundamental difference is that they treat 'intelligence' as a personal quality more highly than we do. It's only a subtle difference but it's had a major effect on how PC has developed.

The inhabitants of PC are a playful bunch who enjoy a wide variety of riddles, games and puzzles interspersed with their everyday life. This manifests itself in everything from the way elections are conducted (candidates are as likely to be set puzzles by the electorate as they are quizzed on their policies) to their social conventions (gifts are never given directly to a recipient. That would be too boring. The giver always creates a mini treasure hunt to direct the recipient to the gift's location).

The ultra smart geeks are treated with great reverence by the general population of PC and they have a slightly easier time getting dates than they do in our world ;)


At the heart of PC is the 'Central Puzzle Academy' run by Sente. This hallowed institution houses the highly respected puzzle architects who toil away creating all manner of puzzles and games to delight the insatiable demands of the general population. The highlight of the year is the annual puzzle tournament where the city gathers to watch the smartest 'mind gladiators' battle it out over several days of intense competition. Sente of course is quick to offer academy apprenticeships to the most promising youngsters every year.

The academy contains an object of great value. The 'Perplex City Lodestone' has sat upon its plinth within a heavily guarded area of the building for as long as anyone can remember. Its legend is shrouded in mystery but there is no doubt that it provides a great deal of inspiration to the academists and the city as a whole. During the weeklong annual puzzle tournament it is said to glow faintly, perhaps picking up and absorbing the huge amount of electrical brain activity surging all around it. No-one is sure exactly where it came from but it's importance is unquestioned throughout the city.

A character known only as The Perplexor provides the edge, darkness and the underlying tension to the world. He lives with his small but dangerous band of followers in his family's large, ramshackle, castle on the outskirts of the city. Decades earlier he was beaten in the final of the annual puzzle tournament by Sente who went on to gain an apprenticeship and eventually the head role. The Perplexor never really recovered from this and has spiralled downhill. For years he has been planning to reassert himself but has never found the right opportunity. He believes that Sente's hold over the academy and the city is maintained by the Lodestone and no matter how intensely he sharpens his mental skills he'll never be able to defeat him. He hatches a plan to steal the Lodestone and have it destroyed so he can eventually re-emerge and challenge Sente for the head role.

As the years pass and he is not seen the legend surrounding him begins to grow. He becomes synonymous with 'dark puzzles'. Puzzles that are usually hideously complex and unpleasant to tackle. His style of puzzle setting is frowned upon by the masses - the answers are often ambiguous and leave you feeling tricked. They are light years away from the celebrated style pioneered by Sente which many think heralded the golden age of puzzles within Perplex City. His approach to puzzle setting leads you on a pleasant mental journey until you reach that delicious 'aha' moment when the answer pops into place.


Violet is the eldest of Sente's two daughters. A free spirit she controversially declined the offer to attend the academy and flits between a wide range of unusual pursuits that interest her from running the PC Library to playing professional poker.

By sheer coincidence she manages to intercept plans that the Lodestone is to be stolen. Her simple option is to alert her father but for reasons known only to her she decides not to. She has certain access rights within the academy because her father runs it and decides to try and secretly remove the stone before the Perplexor can get to it. It's obviously a very difficult task but she manages it.

He is naturally furious and comes after her. The stone has strange magnetic properties and can always be identified wherever it is within PC. She is aware of this and so her only option is to take the very dangerous decision to travel from PC into our world (where the magnetic force it emits is almost non-existent) and hide it where she thinks it'll be safe.


Perplex City is thrown into chaos when they realise the Lodestone is missing. It's a major event and the blogs and newspapers are rife with speculation. A magnetic search for it reveals only a very weak trace suggesting it has been taken into our world. Conveniently the weak signal suggests that the stone is buried somewhere in the UK. Sente proposes to the academy and the city as a whole that they pull back the curtain and announce themselves to our World. They decide to create a game for us which will introduce us to Perplex City and its many colourful characters. The theory is that by doing so the players on earth can peer through the window into PC and help crack the mystery by locating the Lodestone within the UK.

Many of the puzzle cards within the game feature characters and settings from Perplex City. This will be far more interesting to the players than setting puzzles based around abstract issues. They will be more engaged since not only will solving a puzzle advance their score or prize winning potential but it will reveal an additional scrap of information about Perplex City.


As is befitting her mischievous and playful nature, Violet decides to reveal the location of the Lodestone to the players via a series of much deeper puzzles. Effectively she creates her own secret sub-game so someone on earth can find the Lodestone. She thinks this will be much more fun than simply retrieving it herself or stepping forward and revealing to her father what she has done (in any case she actually thinks he's having far too much fun interacting with all the puzzle virgins on earth).

She starts communicating with the players. One of her favourites is to sneak into the academy and write messages on the cards in UV writing. She has a wide variety of other tricks such as heat sensitive inks and microscopic writing. She leads the players on a merry dance over many months (the timescale is controlled by her) as they try and uncover her motivations and retrace her actions. She got up to a fair bit during her brief visit to our world and most of it will be relevant to the players as they try and plot her timeline and trace her route (conversations with taxi drivers, fragments of maps, receipts, photos and so on). They piece all this together by collecting the relevant cards (or borrowing friends cards!), reading her blog and investigating all the other comings and goings within PC.

Another important character within the game that players will need to keep a close eye on is Violet's younger sister. No idea what to call her but 'Scarlett' will do for now. She longs to be a journalist and is fascinated by our world. She is as excited as Sente is that PC have made contact with us. She takes it upon herself to keep a log of all the PC articles and relevant blogs from our world.


Season 1 Pregame

Some very early thoughts for our pregame. Again, the reality was different.

The basic storyline from now to launch:

On August 3, Violet grabs the Lodestone and does her thing. She is in the UK until late September. In August, Sente does what he perceives is the most reasonable thing and runs lost & found ads in the area where he believes the Stone has gone (a wide area, I might add). He is able to hide the theft until early Feb., when the stone is traditionally present and viewed in public for a PC national holiday. This is when all hell will break loose in Perplex City.

A few weeks after running the initial ads, he writes email to prominent figures he has seen in the puzzle world, asking if they can help him out. He somewhat naively believes that such people will be pure of motivation and will come to his aid out of hand. Michael is the only one who believes him and responds.

Together, they agree that the newspaper ads simply weren't working. Michael suggests Sente piggy-backs onto the puzzle game we were already planning (ahem) as a way to bring attention to his cause. Michael confesses that we've been unable to find the resources to create the cards here, and suggests they manufacture them in PC and we distribute them here. Sente tries the ad one more time, in the Firebox catalog, to see if the attention it garners is any different, and based on the response he gets, agrees to this plan.

Follow a few weeks of hammering out a contract and getting to know each other. During this time, Sente is railing to get everything finished as soon as possible. As soon as the agreement is solid, Sente & Co. at the Academy begin quietly churning out the cards as fast as they can, and shipping them over. Cue loud complaints from the Academy's oversight board about poorly documented expenses.

From November through to launch, we can release periodic morsels of content. Preferably on a schedule that is not externally discernible. Information can be released in the guises of security flaws, site tests, mis-sent emails, "accidental" cut-n-paste to a public IRC channel, or planned press releases.



Nov. 11 Memo from Michael:


It has come to my attention that some of you have been inappropriate in your conduct toward our new business partners.

I do recognize that they can be overly demanding and difficult to communicate with from time to time. However, there are some meaningful cultural differences, and we must all adjust to necessity. As we become more familiar with each other, this relationship should grow more comfortable for everybody.

In specific, everyone must absolutely refrain from ridiculing the Lodestone. These people have a near-religious reverence for this object, and I expect every one of you to treat this belief with respect and civility.

There is no place in this company for intolerant behavior. If I discover further problems, those responsible will be terminated.


  • Dec. 31 Shopping List
  • Cadbury Crème Eggs
  • Magazines: Games, Vogue, People
  • Mystery novels
  • Half a case of champagne
  • Five pounds of Columbian coffee
  • Note: Best wishes in the New Year!


Receda's Revenge Flowchart

Everyone's favourite online live event, and definitely the most successful, Receda's Revenge was the product of some serious preparation. This flowchart details the sequences of events required for victory. We were despairing, however, when the player-character hadn't even left their Home after half an hour... but then came the brilliant idea of killing people off.

The Puzzle Scribes

An early draft of the puzzle scribes. Some people have stayed remarkably the same (Anna, Garnet), some people's names have changed (Ron, Sophie) and others are just completely foreign - who the hell is Mitchell

First draft of the puzzle scribes, September 2004

Anna Heath

Mid-to-late 30s, expert in linguistic puzzles. Speaks half a dozen languages fluently, and about another dozen with varying degrees of skill. Particularly enjoys setting multi-language crosswords, in which the clues will involve puns across several languages, with the answer probably being in another language entirely. Is a passionate fan of Georges Perec (the bloke who wrote a whole novel without using the letter E). Also 'suffers' from ailihphilia - probably brought on by her name.

Anna was 'spotted' by one of the senior academicians when she was only in primary school, taking part in a spelling bee. (She had to correct the spelling of the teachers on a couple of occasions.) She was fast-tracked through the academy, becoming a fully-fledged Puzzle-setter by the age of 22. Her career's continued at a more modest pace since then, but she's considered to be 'sound' by the senior fellows, and is tipped to become one of their number when Sedgewick is finally persuaded to step down.

Anna has a husband, Fleming, who's an architect, and a minor talent on the Advantage circuit. (A popular card game in PC, one of whose major features is that players have to play cards, unseen, from other people's hands.) They have two young sons, Otto and Pip. (And, no, Anna's not planning on giving up the palindromes any time soon.) Her attitude to the cube is one of qualified indifference. She sees its value as a symbol, but other than that wishes that valuable Academy resources were not being wasted on continued investigations, particularly when new researchers in Ugaritic and Tagalog are so urgently needed.

Ron "don't call me Ronny" Ronson

25, a high flier if he could only keep himself out of trouble. He drinks a lot, smokes a lot, has a number of interesting (and probably coded) tattoos and swears with great abandon. He's often had to spend a night in the cells of the Perplex City gaol drying out, but, lucky for him, his position as a puzzle-setter at the Academy means that the authorities tend to go leniently on him. Still, he irritates the hell out of Sente and a lot of the senior fellows; they keep him around because he's so brilliant, but he has got a bit of a bad rep. Still, he's never pulled any particularly serious stunts at the Academy (his involvement in the ill-advised attempt to paint the statues of the seven founder academicians yellow has been long-suspected but never proved. He's a specialist in number sequences, particularly musical ones. Can talk with enthusiasm and passion about Bach, Viscount, Baritsky and the fugue movement of the previous century, but only if he thinks no one's listening. In his spare time, Ron plays drums with a thrash metal band called The Ooze. Ron thinks all politics is rubbish, and doesn't believe in any religious mumbo-jumbo. In fact he's been contemplating getting a tattoo that reads "God can just fuck off". On his face. Potentially.

Ron's deep dark secret is, of course, that he comes from a really lovely family (one older brother, two younger sisters) who live in Fivebridge, one of the small towns upriver of PC. His mother runs the regional Chamber of Commerce. (Heh.) He came to the Academy through perfectly usual channels: did very well in school, and even better in college and was recommended by his tutors. He never talks about where he came from; if asked, he'll imply that his family abandoned him, or are dead, or some such. He wears a lot of black and has a lot of piercings. Ron and Violet used to have a thing, but really she was only with him in order to irritate her father. Which she did. Ron's seeing about three girls at the moment, but none of them with any great degree of seriousness.


Comes from a good family is, of course, blonde, dresses immaculately (she seems to have the capacity actually to iron clothing merely by wearing it) and rides horses on the weekend in Parallelogram Park. At first glance, she seems pleasant enough, perhaps slightly dim. She's probably the only academician ever to have had all the furniture removed from her office because she wanted something 'far better' shipped in from one of her parents' houses. Some upper-class friend of hers has painted a mural of a forest round the walls, so that now when you walk in there, it's barely possible to tell that you're even in the academy any more. When you do walk in, you're pretty likely to find her on the phone, feet up on the desk, lolling back in her chair as she chats to someone called Rollo.

Yes, she seems like an archetypal woman from a wealthy background who got into the academy on the back of daddy's money (her father's a banker, her mother's a trainer (of horses), she has two older brothers both of whom are now 'in business') and really doesn't deserve her place there at all. (In fact, Ron does say this about her; preferably very loud, and when she's in the vicinity to hear.) Now, while it is of course true that Sophie comes from money, is good-looking and knows a lot of the right people, it is nonetheless true that she's also fearsomely bright, she just hides it extremely well. Her puzzle-setting style is idiosyncratic; she can mimic the styles of at least 10 other well-known puzzle setters. Sente often uses her to 'brush up' the work of someone whose latest puzzle isn't up to scratch. There's really no type of puzzle she can't turn her hand to, which is probably why she hasn't made a name for herself in one particular field. When she does write 'non-genre' puzzles, they tend to be fiendishly difficult, demanding expert knowledge in at least six different disciplines.

Mitchell Ward

Is quiet. Some might say a little too quiet. Some have been driven screaming from the room by Mitchell's intense, almost deathly silence. If really pressed, Mitchell might remark that he's contemplating the infinite. Oh yes, Mitchell is one of those pale-faced scholars who can be observed in the Wegner Building. He is a Paradox specialist. The Paradox specialists, while garnering a great deal of respect in some quarters (rather like poets) are generally thought to be a little strange, and their work is often barely understood (rather like poets).

Mitchell tends to wear the same clothes for days at a time (or perhaps he has many different sets of exactly the same outfit (with exactly the same egg stain on the sweater)). He's an only child (evidently) and his parents belonged to some slightly wiggy quantum-states religion that was all about God being in the spaces between the energy (or something).

Mitchell is fascinated by the cube in a rather creepy way; if he does ever talk about it, which he doesn't do particularly often, he'll get a sort of glazed look in his eyes, and start on about how it's the ultimate paradox, perhaps the source of all paradoxes. He's a pretty good candidate for a red herring, because I expect his personal website has got a lot of incoherent musing about the thing (potentially even some poetry) and some strange bits in code. But, of course, we know he didn't take it, and he wasn't ever planning on it. (But someone out there might remember some night when he got uncharacteristically drunk in a bar near the Academy and started shouting to anyone who'd listen that the Academy had "imprisoned" the cube, and that it should be set free. He was probably questioned when the thing went missing.

Despite giving the impression that he's incapable of exchanging a coherent sentence with anyone let alone a member of the opposite sex, Mitchell has actually been seriously dating another paradoxist (quiet, wears a lot of grey clothes) - Megan - for the past three years.


Is short, wiry, Asian in appearance (reminds me… what are we doing/saying about different ethnic groups in PC? Do people look different in different parts of the world?), drinks far too much coffee and often visibly shakes when she's just had some sort of all-nighter in the logic lab. She's a logic problemist; she doesn't read too much into that, she's not particularly logical in her day-to-day life (as strange variety of boyfriends, girlfriends, friends-who-morph-into-lovers-and-then-back-into-friends will testify) but has that sort of brain. At least, presumably she's got that sort of brain; it's often hard to tell under all that coffee. Mirror is vegan, is rather militant about animal rights, and thinks that if the Cube is sentient, which she sees good reason to think it is, then the Academy is committing an act of evil by keeping it 'caged'. (Not quite sure how she thinks it should be let loose into its natural habitat, but then neither is she.) She occasionally writes angry letters to Sente on these lines (which someone might find if they hacked into Sente's computer).

Mirror's actually really good company if you don't get her onto the subject of animal (or Cube) rights; she's got a wicked sense of humour, and doesn't take the Academy too seriously. In the evenings, when she's not working on some logic problem, she often DJs in local clubs, so she knows Violet by sight but not well. She's incredibly cynical, but also very self-deprecating. She does have a famously sharp tongue, though, particularly if interrupted. (She once said something unrepeatable to her head of department when he interrupted her while she was working through the elements of a Blinovitch problem. Luckily, he was too deaf to hear it.)


Is tall, 35-ish, black, and very fit, because… he's actually on secondment from the Perplex City army. (Who I imagine to have a ceremonial role rather like the Swiss Guard, but just as lethal and with less silly uniforms.) Garnet's a code and cipher man. He's charming, relaxed and, if ever anyone asks him what he does for the army he replies: "oh, nothing, boring paperwork job. Civil service, you know." Around the Academy, it's widely rumoured that he's a spy, which is either a good advertisement for the excellent relationship between the Academy and the government (they're willing to have him in their midst without worrying about what he might find out) or else a really bad sign (he really is spying on what's going on in this secretive, non-elected organization, and feeding back to the head of the Council.

Garnet's a sportsman; in his free time he likes to drive out to the mountains to the west of PC and hike, go white-water rafting, ski etc. He doesn't have a declared love interest, although he and Sophie have a pretty flirtatious relationship; no one's clear whether it's ever gone further than pleasant office banter, though.


Perplex City's Technology

Some thoughts on Perplex City's state of technological development.

Technology in Perplex City

Right. I've been having a think about this - it's something that impacts on almost all the areas of things that we say and show of the City, so it's important to keep it consistent, from the pictures to the websites to the wording of the puzzle cards. So. Essentially, I'm working on the basis that everything they have works just a bit better than what we have. Their technology is where ours looks like it's going to be in 30-40 years time, if everything goes well and nothing surprising happens.

In other words, things are more:

  • streamlined. They don't have a mobile phone, a PDA, a home computer, and MP3 player, a TV, a home phone, etc etc. They have one, very small object (I'm thinking about twice the size of a USB key; I've been calling it a "key" or "terminal") that does *everything*. It can project a "screen" and a "keyboard". It plays music and films, it connects for audio or audio-visual communication with other people. Everyone has one. (Hey, 85% of people in the UK already own a mobile phone.) There is perfect connectivity.
  • systematic. All their systems have been carefully thought through. The tube network is not *systemically faulty*; there may occasionally be delays and cancellations, but it won't be constant and exhausting. There is only one library system throughout the city. You never have to carry identification. You pay for all your purchases with a thumbprint on a pad in the shop or via your terminal or key. Information searching is instantaneous and efficient: if you find a bit of a song going round and round in your head, you can sing it at your key and it'll do a search to tell you what it is.
  • successful. They've all but eliminated infectious disease among human beings, and are working on (but haven't yet got there with) limb regrowth. [We're not going anywhere near the areas of human cloning or genetic modification. They don't have the "large population-not enough food" problem that we have, so genetically modified crops aren't such an issue.] There are disabled people; the aids to make their lives easier are better than the ones we have. They have limited "artificial intelligence", but nothing that would actually start demanding human rights.
  • sustainable. They're not burning fossil fuels to get around. (I reckon they've probably worked out fusion.) They have some environmental issues, but they've spent the past 100 years or so doing some extensive environmental restoration. The pollution in the city centre is minimal. The beach is clean. There is poverty, but not absolute poverty - not anywhere in the city. Absolutely no one has to go without the basics of nourishing food, clothing, a roof over their head, and access to excellent free education to help them to improve their lives.

Although this is a technologically advanced world, their *issues*, their story, doesn't come from technology. This world should feel very familiar, but just a bit *smoother* than the world we live in.


Unanswered Questions

Even late in the story development process, important questions remained unanswered.

Note dated 26 September 2004

Some questions to be resolved:

  • has there been previous contact between earth and pc? That we know of? That they know of?
  • how come pc and our world share the same internet? is pc inside the internet? or is the internet the place where worlds crossover? are there other worlds too?
  • how did the cube bring violet here? and itself for that matter? would it do this when anyone touched it?
  • need to work out exactly what it is that the monarchists (the enemy) want to do with the cube that's so bad that Violet has to steal it and what exactly it is that she hears that tells her that's going to happen?
  • what is violet trying to achieve by telling us where it is? who does she expect it to be handed over to, once found?